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Springsteen & I

D: Baillie Walsh / 124m

A documentary with a difference, Springsteen & I isn’t a straightforward trawl through the life and triumphs of the man they call The Boss, but a kind of accidental biography, a look back over his life, certainly, but at a remove, and as seen through the eyes of his fans (and one non-fan). It’s a novel approach, and one that conveniently circumvents any danger of the intended subject deciding he or she doesn’t want anything to do with the project (though here, Springsteen has generously allowed previously unseen live footage to be used).

So instead of The Boss talking about the ups and downs of his forty-year plus career, we get The Boss’s fans talking about their ups and downs in relation to him over the course of that career. In particular, we hear from three people who have shared the limelight with Bruce: a young woman who joined him on stage after waving a banner that stated “I’ll be ur Courteney Cox” (a reference to Cox’s appearing in the Dancing in the Dark video); an Elvis impersonator who sang Hound Dog with Bruce live on stage (and cheekily tried to add Blue Suede Shoes before realising he’d outstayed his welcome); and a musician who jammed with Bruce on a New York street. All three “collaborations” were filmed and it’s these instances that perhaps give the best insight into the man himself. Here, Springsteen comes across as unselfish, at ease with both his personal and professional image, genuinely supportive of others, and – this won’t be the first time it’s been mentioned – a really nice guy.

The rest of the movie follows a similar line, with fans queuing up to say how wonderful he is and how his music has had a profound influence on their lives, from the woman who plays nothing but Springsteen on her car stereo (her kids know not to ask for anything else), to the couple who have never seen him live but feel blessed to have his music enriching their lives, to the British fan who found himself and his wife given an unexpected upgrade at Madison Square Garden that saw them move from the very upper reaches of the venue to the front row itself; all these stories reinforce the positive effects Springsteen and his music have had on so many different people over so many years.

Springsteen & I - scene

Much is made of Springsteen’s writing about and for the working class in America, the blue collar part of the electorate who seem to have their hopes and dreams denied them time and time again, but remain determined to make something of their lives. This struggle is a recurring theme in Springsteen’s music, and finds it’s most apt expression in the comments made by a female trucker who has found empowerment through his lyrics.

Of course, the average viewer’s tolerance for all this will depend on their appreciation of Springsteen and how much of his music is familiar to them. Fans will lap this up, and are likely to derive intense satisfaction from seeing their own views reflected back at them, while those less familiar with The Boss’s output will quickly wonder if there’s going to be any alternative to all the cheery – but still heartfelt – eulogising (there is – twice – but they’re brief moments, although the second has one of the best responses to an off-camera question you’re ever likely to hear).

With other fans providing succinct three word appraisals of Springsteen – though some struggle to stop at three – as well as plenty of concert footage taken from various periods of Springsteen’s career (including a very early acoustic performance of Growin’ Up), the movie benefits greatly from the choices director Walsh has made for inclusion and the sure-handed editorial approach taken with the material. A word of caution though: the documentary proper ends around the eighty minute mark. The rest of the movie is taken up by live footage taken from Springsteen’s London concert in 2012 (and featuring Paul McCartney on a couple of Beatles tracks), and following that, a real surprise for the viewer (and some of the fans).

Rating: 8/10 – a well-constructed documentary that avoids any accusations of superficiality by virtue of the obvious sincerity of its participants; a treat for fans and a reminder of Springsteen’s enduring musical legacy.